Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Alicia Forsberg

University of Sheffield

Research Focus

Alicia Forsberg’s research explores developmental changes in Working Memory, the mental sketchpad that holds information during cognitive tasks. Working memory capacity is especially limited in children, and one of Alicia’s key findings to date suggests that these capacity limitations constrain children’s long-term learning.

She has also found that children with poorer working memory tend to overestimate how much information they are able to hold in mind. Going forward, Alicia’s research will seek to reduce the long-term learning consequences of these limitations. For example, she will explore whether interventions that improve subjective awareness of memory limitations can help reduce working memory deficits. 

My plans for the fellowship period

During the fellowship years, I plan to address one overarching question: How can we help children widen their narrow working memory bottleneck to boost successful learning? It is well-established that poorer working memory predicts poorer educational outcomes, but research has failed to produce clear evidence-based recommendations to reduce these inequalities.

My novel paradigm provides a way to measure the direct impact of working memory overload on subsequent learning. Using this approach, my planned research will identify the ideal learning conditions for children of different working memory abilities. I will also explore the role of individual differences in two key factors that support children’s learning: meta-memory (i.e., subjective awareness of one’s working memory limitations), and the ability to ignore distracting information.

Ultimately, this research may produce evidence-based interventions and strategies to help children – especially those with poorer working memory – attain better learning and educational outcomes. To achieve these research aims, I will execute a multi-step research plan combining in-lab, in-school, and online data collection, using screen-based memory games.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

My planned fellowship research will promote human learning and development in two key ways. First, it will advance theoretical understanding of why some children retain more information from a learning episode than others, and how we can adjust learning conditions to reduce these differences.

Second, translating these results directly into evidence-based learning technology will provide a clear pathway to help children – especially those with poorer working memory capacity – boost their learning. To ensure real-world relevance and feasibility, I will develop this research with direct input from educators, use educationally relevant materials, and link my cognitive measures to student grades.

As a fellow, I hope to establish collaborations with educators and learning technology experts and translate my cognitive research into effective interventions to support children’s learning in the real world.